Bell Tea NZ concerned about plantation worker conditions scandal

A tea-picker's life in Assam is a hard one.
DMITRY RUKHLENKO/123RF

A tea-picker's life in Assam is a hard one.

Bell Tea's New Zealand agent says reports of poor working conditions at some Indian tea planations are of concern.

The BBC has reported conditions in plantations in Assam, northern India, including some supplying Twinings, an English brand of tea for which the Bell Tea and Coffee Company is the sole agent in New Zealand.

Bell Tea's  brewmaster Matt Greenwood said the company was taking the BBC report seriously.

The BBC found "terrible sanitation", workers defecating among tea bushes, wages so low there was malnourishment among tea workers, and poor levels of health and safety.

Twinings and other British tea brands like PG Tips and Tetleys said they would work to improve standards on the tea estates they bought from.

Greenwood said the BBC's report as "very concerning".

Bell Tea bought a small amount of Indian tea, but none of it was sourced from estates featured in the BBC report and it was not used in the Bell brand in New Zealand, Greenwood said.

Bell Tea is a member of the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), which is designed to ensure minimum labour and sanitation standards are maintained on the estates members buy their tea from.

Twinings, Tetleys and PG Tips are all members.

Greenwood said the ETP did good work in the world's tea-producing regions, many of which were poor.

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But he said the BBC report appeared to have revealed some flaws in the auditing of the ethical standards on some tea estates, and he was sure the ETP would work to make improvements.

The ETP sets a minimum standards for the plantations from which members source their tea.

Plantations are audited on their performance across employment, education, maternity, health and safety, housing and basic rights.

Estates must also abide by legal minimum pay rates in their country.

The BBC found in Assam, tea industry workers were paid 115 rupees a day, about $2.75.

If any of the rights ETP demands are not met, the ETP will notify and work with the estate to make the changes needed to comply with the required standards.

Greenwood said there were huge challenges in Indian tea estates, which supply both India's domestic tea sector, as well as overseas companies like Bell and Twinnings.

"Things are slow to change," he said.

Greenwood said tea consumers in New Zealand wanted to see sustainably sourced tea.

This story has been updated with further comment from the Bell Tea and Coffee Company clarifying its use of Indian tea.

 - Stuff.co.nz

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